Welcoming Ross Dakin to the Microsoft NY Team

 |   Ross Dakin

ross-headshot-3Hello, New York! I’ve just joined the Microsoft Technology and Civic Innovation team, and I couldn’t be more excited. The last chapter of my career was incredible and I’m optimistic that this next one will be every bit as impactful. For the past year, as a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow, it’s been my tremendous honor to help our federal government reinvent the way it approaches service creation for the benefit of all citizens. I can’t think of a more natural transition than to now do the same within a global technology company that’s been reinventing its products, its culture, and its role in the world.

At Microsoft, I’m eager to use data and technology for social good. Initially, I’m planning to focus on taking the Civic Graph to new heights, using Microsoft Translator for real human impact, and ensuring that every student developer has the cloud services they need to learn, no matter how much or how little they may have in their wallet. But I’m also excited to meet the people and organizations that are already doing great work in the city. I’m sure the city is teeming with all kinds of high-potential projects that I simply don’t know about yet.

The early days.

Microsoft has a special place in my heart. In 2002, I was lucky enough to have a high school teacher show me how to go “behind the scenes” and write Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) macros in Microsoft Access. This became my first computer programming experience, and it would come at a pivotal time as I was deciding which college to attend and which major to declare.

Now—a decade and a half later—I find it fitting to join the company that created the tools which initially seeded my interest in technology and continues to inspire the next generation of technologists by actively encouraging kids of all genders and backgrounds to try their hands at software development (see the robots, animations, and websites created by the Microsoft Girls Who Code Class of 2016 last week!).

Those formative experiences led me to attend Santa Clara University, where I earned a degree in computer engineering while writing programs in Notepad on my Windows XP laptop. However, it was a Windows program called Cygwin that allowed for the compilation and execution of my code by emulating a POSIX-compliant operating system in which many common open source tools could be used—in other words, my learning environment was a Windows/open source hybrid.

This is a powerful combination of ubiquity and versatility, and it represents another memory to which I’m excited to pay homage by joining Microsoft at a time during which the company is accelerating its embrace of the open source tools that so many developers know and love (learn more about Microsoft’s support of open platforms like Linux, Docker, and Node.js).

Work on things that matter.

“I truly believe that each of us must find meaning in our work. The best work happens when you know that it’s not just work, but something that will improve other people’s lives.”

—Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO

I’ve had the good fortune to be a part of a number of exciting Silicon Valley companies, including: LiveOps, where I developed software for hosting distributed call centers while receiving incredible mentorship from engineers who literally created the first web browsers; BrightPoint Security (acquired by ServiceNow), which leveraged the power of virtualization to move traditional enterprise security appliances to the cloud; Upstart, where we employed big data to shatter the incumbent paradigm of credit-score-based lending risk models; and Deliv, which is utilizing crowd-sourced drivers to provide same day delivery services for the retail brands you find in every shopping mall across the country. Each of these companies have generated value by applying innovative technologies in novel ways. However, my barometer for value creation shifted last year during my tenure as a Presidential Innovation Fellow.

I can even give you a specific date. On March 9, 2016, seven of my colleagues and I traveled from Washington, DC to New York City. We met with people all over town who had written letters to the President (did you know that the White House really does keep them all?), in order to better understand the stressors that might be preventing them from thriving in their given situations.

From Brooklyn to Queens to Harlem and the Bronx, we learned about housing vouchers that the homeless didn’t know how to apply for; food stamps that the hungry stopped receiving because of a missed re-enrollment letter; rejection from cash assistance programs due to not having enough money for cross-town bus fare to submit the paperwork. Every person I met that day held my hand, looked me in the eye, and expressed their sincere gratitude to us for listening to their stories.

That was the most meaningful day of my career.

It’s all about people.

“We shouldn’t think of a technology as radical or transformative unless it benefits every single person.”

—DJ Patil, U.S. Chief Data Scientist

Since that day, it has remained clear to me how much tremendous potential for impact exists in the civic technology space if we are able to “continue to make strides in providing innovation in the realm of connected systems that bridge the unstructured world of human processes with the structured world of business applications,” which Satya Nadella has committed Microsoft to do. As he observed, “Many companies aspire to change the world. But very few have all the elements required: talent, resources and perseverance. Microsoft has proven that it has all three in abundance.”

I’m eager to help apply such abundance to the public good, starting right here in New York. 

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